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In about a week, Israeli voters will go to the polls to elect a new prime minister. They are confronted with the choice between the incumbent, Ehud Barak and the challenger, Ariel Sharon. Both men are decorated war heroes — Barak is the most decorated soldier in his nation’s history. When Barak came to power, it was expected that he would deal with the Palestinians with a firm, but flexible hand.
What happened instead was Barak allowed himself to be a tool of the Clinton Legacy Quest, drawn into a never-ending series of premature negotiations that promised away all of Israel’s bargaining chips and obtaining nothing in return.
Prodded by Clinton, Barak systematically began redefining the “three no’s” that had guided the process since it began in 1993. No to the surrender of Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount; no to the establishment of a Palestinian State and no to any division of Jerusalem.
There is a media-driven myth that the end game of the 1993 Oslo peace plan always included a state for Arafat and a compromise over Jerusalem. In fact, back in ’93, the Palestinian Authority was granted limited autonomy over Jericho and parts of Gaza. Arafat made headlines when he declared the Jericho Road leading to Jerusalem “Palestinian territory.”
Oslo forbade any mention of a Palestinian state or any envisioned “Palestinian” territory. Oslo forbade Arafat from calling for a shared capital in Jerusalem. Oslo also forbade Arafat from conducting PA business within the city limits of Jerusalem. Arafat was even forbidden, under the terms of the ’93 deal, from assuming the title of “president,” specifically limiting his title to that of “Chairman of the Palestinian Authority.” The Israelis demanded that provision — and Arafat agreed — to prevent the public perception of an eventual Palestinian state.
But public perception of what the agreement said was ultimately shaped by Arafat’s unfettered access to the media and constant application of the principle that a lie, repeated often enough, eventually becomes the truth.
With CNN’s enthusiastic assistance, the public eventually began to believe that Israel’s refusal to negotiate statehood meant Israel was reneging on the deal. Public pressure forced Israel to cave on statehood, Netanyahu lost his job and Barak was supposed to hold the line.
Instead, Barak gave away the store. He agreed in principle to the Clinton Plan, which could be given the short name the “three yeses.”
The plan gave Arafat 95 percent of the West Bank (seven years earlier, he’d have been happy with a road), three-fourths of Jerusalem (in 1993, he would have settled for an office at Orient House), sovereignty over the Temple Mount, and a safe passage “corridor” that would connect a divided Jerusalem.
Amazingly, Arafat turned the deal down, even before the Israeli public had a chance to consider its ramifications. Arafat complained that the offer didn’t include the right of return of almost 4 million expatriate Palestinians. That would give Arabs a majority in Israel, ending the existence of a Jewish state at the next election.
Arafat never wanted a state beside Israel, he wanted one instead of Israel. And the right of return would accomplish that without firing a shot. If, that is, he could have gotten it as part of the offer.
When Arafat saw there was nothing left to be gained by diplomacy, he abandoned all previous promises of peace and moved to Stage 2 — which, as outlined by Benjamin Netanyahu in 1993, calls for Arafat to consolidate his territorial gains made thus far, marshal his forces and attempt to seize what remains by force.
The ultimate goal, predicted Netanyahu in 1993, was to open the door via the right of return to smother and eventually annihilate a Jewish state in the Middle East.
Netanyahu wasn’t particularly prescient in this prediction. Joan Peters outlined Arafat’s true agenda in her book, “From Time Immemorial” back in 1984. Arafat is simply staying the course he laid out for himself at the beginning — the destruction of Israel.
When forced to admit to his nation that he’d given away everything and got an intifada in return, Barak resigned and called for new elections.
Enter Ariel Sharon, one of the most divisive men on the Israeli political scene for more than 40 years. Sharon is nicknamed the “political bulldozer.”
But before he was a “bulldozer,” he was an army tank. Sharon founded and led the Israeli commando Unit 101 back in the 1950s. His job was to plan and lead retaliatory raids against Arab border attacks. The raids were legendary in their brutality.
Sharon planned and led the Israeli breakthrough into Egypt in the 1973 War, riding across the Suez on the lead tank.
But he earned the undying hatred of the Palestinian people during the 1980s. Sharon was the planner of Operation Peace for Galilee, the invasion of Lebanon that drove Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization completely out of Lebanon. During the Lebanese campaign, a Palestinian refugee camp was massacred by Lebanese militiamen while under Israeli control. An Israeli investigation held Sharon indirectly responsible.
Sharon is so hated among Palestinians that his visit to Temple Mount alone was enough of an excuse for Arafat to order the current uprising. Despite Sharon’s reputation with the Palestinians, he is enjoying a double-digit lead over Barak in the polls.
The fact that Israelis would even consider Sharon, given his well-known history, sends a strong message of political resolve to the rest of the world. A Sharon victory says the Israelis are drawing a line in the sand.
The Israeli voters know that electing Ariel Sharon as Israeli prime minister could spark a bloodbath, probably more so than any other politician alive in Israel today. It appears they are prepared to take that risk.
They’re tired of peace that looks like war. If it’s going to be war, the election of Ariel Sharon sends a signal about what kind of war it’s going to be.